One of the most challenging aspects of adapting to life with my new physical limitations has been learning to deal with fear. Of course, I’ve got the kinds of fear that are to be expected after the type of accident I went through; nobody can blame me for freaking out during thunderstorms or losing control in confined spaces. People understand when I tell them about the big fears. It’s the little fears that make folks think I’ve lost my mind.
When the doctor took off that brace, he warned me about all of the activities I would have to avoid for the rest of my life. Horseback riding? Well, the horses of the world breathed a collective sigh of relief on that one. Speedboats? Not a problem, except when the Big Guy got carried away with the fishing boat. Sledding, bumper cars, carnival rides? Slight tremor there; I always liked that sort of thing. Diving? Okay, I’m going to miss that one.
Then came the kicker. “You’re going to have to be really careful about falling,” he told me.
Oh, Lord. My then-husband dropped his face in his hands and groaned.
Here’s the problem: I’m a klutz. Always have been, always will be. I have not ounce of physical grace or coordination. You’ve heard the saying about people having “two left feet”? Well, I’ve got three of them. I’m forever stepping into holes or rolling an ankle, stumbling over nonexistent things, tumbling down hills.
I’ve lost count of the times I would fall into holes or down hills while walking with my husband, only to catch up to him as he stood there with a mystified look on his face, muttering “ . . . the hell did she go?”
So my heart sank when the doctor told me to be careful about falling. Because of the location and sheer amount of damage done to my neck, I have to avoid anything that might have any kind of impact on my spine. A simple slip on the ice or on stairs, for example, with a hard landing on my derriere, could do irreparable harm.
My first big fall happened about six months later. I was rushing out the back door for something or other, tripped over the dog, and launched myself face-first into a snowbank. I lay there on my belly for the longest time doing a mental inventory.
Can I move? Check.
Does my neck hurt? Nope.
Am I dead? Don’t think so.
Then why the hell am I laying in the snow? Umm. . . Dunno.
I got up rather sheepishly and headed back inside, feeling a thousand pounds lighter at the realization that a fall wasn’t going to kill me. I lost a lot of my fear that day, but I still catch myself walking like I’m constantly on ice. I stare at the ground and take tiny steps, avoid uneven ground, clutch at handrails as though my life depends upon it.
I move like an old lady.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve made a vow to myself that at least once a week, I am going to do something that scares me. Something that may seem small to others but represents a huge step for me, like posting a selfie online, or asking a very handsome man to meet me for a drink. The selfie went well, Mr. Handsome said no, and I survived both. (For the record, Mr. Handsome was very kind about it, so my feelings weren’t hurt at all.)
So last week, I faced my fear of walking on dangerous surfaces. I walked to and from work every day. Granted, it’s only about two blocks, and I should be embarrassed about all the times I was lazy enough to drive that far, but we’re not going to talk about that. Not right now, anyway. No, I walked on the slippery ice and uneven ground, through deep snow and bumpy driveways, and it didn’t hurt. I skidded and stumbled a few times, but no biggie.
I made it over the big hurdle. It’s the little ones that always seem to get me.
I got up early Saturday morning to make my trademark peanut butter no-bakes for a fundraiser that afternoon. Of course, I was out of milk, so I bustled outside to shovel out my car, which I hadn’t had to bother with since I’d been walking to and from work.
I had a flat tire.
A quick text message to the ex and an even quicker prayer of thanks that I can still call on him for help, but there was still the matter of the milk for the cookies. Well, I thought, I’d walked back and forth from the school for five days; why not a quick jaunt to the store? Temps had climbed from sub-zero to mid-40’s, so it would be safer than it had been all week.
Or so one would assume.
I hit that patch of ice on the way home while stepping around a nasty-looking, slushy drain. It must have been the only piece of ice that was still fully frozen. I didn’t even have time to holler; feet went up and butt came down and I hit hard, right on the tailbone. I felt that impact all the way up into my skull. Exactly the kind of fall the doctor had warned me about.
Let me tell you, I sat in the middle of that road for a long time. It hurt, but I was so surprised that I really couldn’t tell how much it hurt. I just sat there doing the same mental inventory I had done before.
Can I move? Check.
Does my neck hurt? Well, yeah.
Am I dead? Don’t think so.
I finally crawled over to the curb and hauled my slushy self upright so I could walk home. I made my cookies, called in a few apologies to the people who were expecting me to work the fundraiser, and sat down to wait for the pain to kick in. Which it did.
So today has been a slow day involving lots of ibuprofen and hot tea. I ache in ways I can’t even describe; everything from the waist up is on fire. But . . .
I fell in the worst way possible.
And I’m still here.
Those little fears? Getting smaller every day.